Entries for Religious Studies A-level remain high with the fastest growth among arts, humanities and social sciences.

Press release

The key outcomes of the 2017 A level results in England and Wales for Religious Education are as follows:

  • 23,856 RS A level entries were recorded, a small decrease of 4.0% on 2016.  Much of this decrease is explained by a decrease in the number of 18-year-olds in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland of 1.7%.
  • Despite the decrease in entries for RS, there are still more than double the number in 2003 (11,132 entries were recorded in 2003)
  • The increase of 114% in the number of entries for RS A level since 2003 is greater than for any arts, humanity or social science subject (the nearest subject is Political Studies with an increase of 90%).  Among all subjects, only Further Maths has seen more rapid growth than RS
  • 23.3% of entries for RS A level were awarded an A or an A*
  • There were 16,308 entries for RS at AS level, a decrease of 54% on 2016, this reflects the decline across all subjects where the number of AS entries fell by 40% across England and Wales.  Despite the drop there are still more entries than in 2003 (15,482 entries were recorded in 2003)

The importance of RS A Level as a subject for Higher Education entry and for graduate recruiters is increasingly recognised by independent bodies. The Russell Group of top universities has made it clear that RS A level provides ‘suitable preparation for University generally’, and both Oxford and Cambridge University include Religious Studies in the top level list of ‘generally suitable Arts A levels’.

In fact, almost 21% of students admitted to Oxford University to study English and 13.5% admitted to study History in 2015 had an RS A level, more than those with Economics, Physics and Business Studies A levels.[1]

Employers are also recognising the value of religious literacy. For example, in February 2017, EY announced the creation of Religious Literacy for Organisations (RLO), a diversity and inclusion training programme designed to help organisations better understand religious inclusion and its positive impact on business process and performance.

Career prospects for those that take Religious Studies/Theology at degree level are also very bright, with 25% of 2015 graduates going on to work in the fields of legal, social and welfare, 11% choosing to become educational professionals and almost 5% managers.[2]

The high number of pupils taking A level and AS level Religious Studies is all the more impressive for coming at a time when there is a shortfall in recruitment for teacher training in Religious Education.  Evidence collected by the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) suggests that headteachers are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit RE specialists.

Comment from Daniel Hugill, Chair, National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE)

“Congratulations to the many students receiving their Religious Studies results today.  Their results are the product of their hard work grappling with some of the most difficult questions to ever puzzle humankind. Congratulations to their teachers too who have worked tirelessly to ensure that their students can reach their full potential.  It is of little surprise to those of us who teach RS that it remains so popular amongst young people.  RS A-level is an excellent preparation for both further study and for entering the world of work.  RS is a subject that helps young people gain access to a wide range of degree courses including those at the most prestigious Universities.  Our most recent FOI request found that more than 1 in 10 students admitted to Oxford’s Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and History courses had studied RS A-Level. This statistic increases to more than 1 in 5 for students admitted to study English.   The subject matter and approach of an RS A-level helps to equip students with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to succeed in modern Britain.”

Comment from Rudolf Eliott Lockhart, Chief Executive, Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC):

“It’s fantastic to see how popular Religious Studies A level remains.  This is a highly rated subject that offers pupils the opportunity to explore crucial questions in relation to beliefs, values and morality. In doing so it provides an excellent preparation for living in a multi-faith, multi-cultural world.  What’s more, Religious Studies is a rigorous, academic, A-level that provides an excellent foundation for further study in a wide range of academic subjects, and remains a very attractive qualification to universities.  These results are really encouraging, but there’s still work to do.  I hope that the Government will want to work with us to turn enough of today’s keen A level pupils into tomorrow’s teachers to help meet the shortfall in appropriately qualified teachers of religious education that we currently face.”

Numbers of A level entries in arts, humanities and social sciences in England and Wales by selected subject area, 2003 to 2017


Notes: GCE A level results of A level candidates in England and Wales. Source: Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ)[3]

Religious Studies A-level pupils explain why they chose the subject:

Erin Theyer, St John’s School and Sixth Form College, Bishop Auckland

“RS A-level encourages you to ask any question and has given me a new outlook on life. Analysing religious, philosophical and ethical views has given me critical skills and I look forward to developing them further through the intriguing topics of Year 13. Through A-level RE you learn to see the world from a different perspective, challenging you every day to try to see the bigger picture, something which is much needed in today’s current climate.”

Lauryn Morgans, St John’s School and Sixth Form Centre, Bishop Auckland

“I chose AS RE to give myself an edge when applying to study medicine at university. I feel that RE actually gives me the best head-start for such a vocation as every lesson is a challenge, making ethical decisions using rational reasoning and a deeply philosophical outlook, whilst learning about religious traditions and recognising that other people may think differently from me.”

Mollie Haynes, Haslingden High School, Lancashire

“I’m religious but was only aware of my own religion and wanted to understand others. Through A Level RS I have gained more knowledge and managed to understand others in the world more due to knowing more about their religion. I found out things I didn’t even know about my own religion! I now respect and understand other people’s beliefs more and I’m planning to work with the general public on translation so it’s vital I understand other people’s opinions.”

Gabrielle Keir, Haslingden High School, Lancashire

“I chose RS at A Level because I wanted a greater knowledge about the world from different perspectives I did not know before. It has helped me to understand different views from both religious and non-religious perspectives and has allowed me to gain a deeper and greater outlook on the world that many people don’t know about.  My plan is to apply for the army at the end of my gap year. I think RS will massively benefit me because of how complex and broad the subject is. I understand the world and different views more and it will be interesting to travel the world and talk to people and understand different people.”

Tiegan Gamble, Haslingden High School, Lancashire

“I chose RS A Level because it’s so interesting to learn about different cultures and religions. It’s given me a knowledgeable outlook on the world and an understanding of why people do things the way they do for their religion. It prepares you for life because it gives you a massive outlook on the world around you, teaches you to be accepting of all religions and their beliefs and also opens your eyes to all ideologies. I now plan to go to stage school to pursue a career with dance. But living in a city will make me be respectful and understanding of the multicultural society I’m about to face. It’s exciting!”

Abigayle Hames, Haslingden High School, Lancashire

“I did really well at RS GCSE and realised how much I liked it. I think I’ve gained a way of decoding information and putting it in a way I can understand. RS has also helped me to learn how to write in an intellectual and structured way which may help me in the future. I really enjoyed learning about Judaism as that was my favourite topic.”

Katie Prosser, Haslingden High School, Lancashire

“I chose RS A Level as I am interested in religions. It’s given me knowledge of other religious cultures, which I enjoyed most. I think it prepares you for life because you become more sensitive to issues regarding religion. My plan now is to have a gap year and then study law. RS is important for law as it’s vital to have an understanding of different cultures and opinions.”

Katie Hopwood, Haslingden High School, Lancashire

“I chose RS A Level because it is interesting and it’s good to be educated about the world around us, especially with the issues going on around us involving religion. I particularly enjoyed the philosophy, which is so interesting and allows for unanswered questions to gain logical answers. RS teaches you about other people’s views and ways of life and helps you gain respect that everyone is different and everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want. I’m now going to university, and RS will help me as it has given me an insight in to writing essays and obtaining information.”

For media enquiries please contact:

Colin Hallmark, 3:nine Communications:
Tel: 0207 736 1888; 07745 914170;

Mubina Khan-Daniels, NATRE:
Tel: 0121 415 3970 / 0121 4583313

National Association of Teachers of RE

NATRE is the subject teacher association for RE professionals in primary and secondary schools and higher education, providing a representative voice at national level and publications and courses to promote professional development. NATRE’s Executive consists of a majority of serving teachers from primary and secondary schools who are elected for a three-year term of service.

Religious Education Council of England and Wales

Established in 1973, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales (REC) brings together over 60 national organisations. These comprise academic and professional associations specialising in religions and religious education, as well as individual religion and belief organisations inclusive of the range of faith communities found nationally, including Humanists UK.


[2] Data collected for “What do graduates do? Higher Education Career Services Unit  www.hecsu.ac.uk

[3] Due to a change in the way that JCQ present the data, figures for 2003 to 2015 include entries from candidates in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, figures for 2016 and 2017 do not.  This change has a relatively small impact on the time series data.  2016 is the only year in which it is possible to measure the impact of this methodological change: there were 117 entries for Religious Studies from candidates in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man suggesting that the impact of the change will be very slight